Brooklyn Lawyer Places Second In Big Tournament.

peripheral, but happy.

peripheral but happy.

A couple of weeks ago I came upon this thread on the 2+2 forums, in which it is revealed that Erick Lindgren, one of modern poker’s biggest all time winners, is also a colossal loser at life.   It sparked in me a desire to write a blog post.  I planned on putting something together that revealed how things in poker are seldom what they seem.  I planned on telling you that a great number of supposed tournament heroes are in fact destitute, in hopeless debt and playing poker on borrowed money.  I planned on revealing that most of the guys who became poker celebrities in the initial post-Moneymaker wave were frauds who are now broke and/or disgraced.  I planned on mentioning that many of these same people ran a multi-million dollar online business like it was a weekly card game hosted in some guy’s basement.  I was going to tell you about all the expert wizards who exert so much energy mastering poker, win big at it, then squander every last dime in their bankrolls on games they cannot beat.  I was going to bring to light the fact that many professional poker players—including some who enjoy celebrity status—are just your standard gambling addicts, desperate losers who lack integrity when their pockets are bare.   And I planned on mentioning how it was all so dispiriting.  But then last week I had my biggest score since 2009, so I think I will write something about that instead.

Since I last wrote anything here I have enacted my plan of returning to lawyerdom.  Initially I went through a training regimen which had me following my Dad around from court appearance to court appearance, and now I’m back on the suit & tie hustle myself.  The practice has been busy since my return, and last week I had the opportunity to watch an interesting trial.  I won’t get into the details of the case (I doubt anyone cares, and I also have an ethical obligation not to run my mouth) but the stakes were pretty high.  Our client rejected all plea deals and was facing the possibility of a felony conviction for a crime he swore he did not commit.  As the trial unfolded I became more and more emotionally invested in the outcome.  Crucial and highly contradictory testimony was presented by both sides, and as my father cross examined the State’s key witness, I felt my phone vibrating.  Sitting in the front row of the courtroom, I slid it from my pocket, cupped it in my hand and stole a furtive glance.  It was from a professional poker player friend of mine:

ran KK into AA again.  What else is new.  Busto Caesars 550.

Theater of the absurd.  I pictured my friend, his brow furrowed and his face red with fury, storming back to his hotel room, where he would now spend the rest of his day doing something important like prepping for a fantasy baseball draft or masturbating.  Then I looked at our client sitting there at the defendant’s table praying that my Dad would discredit the man on the witness stand so that he could avoid a felony conviction and jail time.  I did everything I could to suppress my desire to laugh, but I couldn’t—I chortled a bit.

Poker exists in a world unto itself.  An isolated fairyland world.

My current situation at home is asphyxiating.  Ivy is now an impossibly cute, funny and inquisitive toddler.  While she still only uses a few English words (“hi,” “this,” “that,” and most recently, “no”), she now is ambulatory and also very clever.  She understands everything we say and she does lots of silly things.  Yesterday she put her Elmo doll into Max’s mechanical swing, stuck her bottle in Elmo’s lap, placed a blanket over Elmo and rocked him to sleep.  And when you say “rock star!” to her, she grins, raises her hand in the air and does some fistpumping.  Also residing here is Ruthie, who at three years old is somehow still in puppy mode.  Both Ivy and Ruthie require plenty of attention.

And then there is Max.  He’s a difficult little fellow.  He craves affection desperately and cries whenever he is not being held.  He also doesn’t seem to understand that daytime is for wakefulness and nighttime is for sleeping.  With this confused little attention-starved booger added to the mix, keeping everyone happy is almost impossible.  Janeen and I are trying our best, dividing duties, making due.  We live day-to-day and minute-to-minute, diffusing one bomb after another.  Sleep is hard to come by, especially for Janeen, who has been kind enough to shoulder the burden during the graveyard hours so that I can be coherent in court in the morning.  Our life is a series of chores, one ending and then another beginning.  A long string of meals, baths, diaper changes, baby hushing, dog walking… repeated ad nauseum.  When we watch an hour of uninterrupted television together it’s considered a big treat. This phase of our lives is about survival.  Presumably Max will soon begin to act more like a tiny person and less like a cranky little lump of crabmeat.  A couple of days ago he started to smile and coo.  There is hope.

Into this mess I am trying to fit some poker.  The Borgata series in January was my final meet as a pro.  When it ended I decided that my game plan going forward would be to play only the tournaments with especially soft, large fields or the possibility of life changing money.  No more $500 events with $75,000 prize pools.  Only big fields and big buyins.  For the Caesar’s Atlantic City WSOP Circuit meet, that meant playing only Events 1 and 2 ($345 buy ins that typically draw big crowds) and the Main Event (a $1,600 reentry).

Because my mother-in-law was staying with us at the time, no special arrangements were necessary for me to get down to AC for the early events.  In Event 1, I got fairly deep but didn’t cash.  In Event 2, I blew up my stack in short order.  Faced with the decision of hanging around for 20 hours and re-entering the next day or going home, I chose the latter and got the hell out of Dodge.  I felt a bit wistful skipping all the prelims that were my former bread and butter, but diapers awaited.

By the time the Main Event came around, I had logged another work week and my mother-in-law was gone.  Playing the tournament thus required a lot of legwork on the front end.  After testimony concluded for the day in the aforementioned trial two Fridays ago, I arranged for my parents to take both Ivy and Ruthie for the weekend.  This left Janeen with only Max to contend with, and I departed for Caesar’s early on Saturday morning.  Having no interest in dumping $3,200, I was prepared to fire a single $1,600 bullet—a solid strategy for a recreational player.

My Day 1 table had two very aggressive players at it, both seated to my right.  One was the dangerous Ari Engel (playing poker on Shabbos, no less) and the other was a less crafty but equally crazy button masher whose poker claim to fame is winning a women’s event at Borgata a few years ago (he is not a woman).  I was lucky to be seated on the left side of these two players, and I was sure I’d end up in a big confrontation with one of them at some point, and that’s exactly what happened.

I’d worked my 20k starting stack up to about 27k at the 100-200/25a level.  One player limped under the gun, another overlimped, and the Ladies Champ iso-raised to 1,200.  It folded to Ari (who covered me) in the hijack, and he three-bet to 2,450.  I was on the button with KcJc, and feeling that Ari’s range was very wide, I chose to 4-bet to 4,400 for leverage (dicking around with these small raises is en vogue, I’m happy to join in).  The limpers and the Ladies’ Champ quickly got out of the way, but Ari proceeded to 5-bet to 8,100.  I wasn’t liking the idea of cramming and getting snapped off, but I also was in no mood to fold, so after some deliberation I chose to put in the chips to call.  Almost one-third of my stack was in the pot, and I was now prepared to get my money in if I flopped any piece, draw, gutshot, whatever.  It all became elementary when the dealer rolled out a 10 high flop with two clubs.  My stack was going in.  Ari led for 2,200 (yes, he bet 2,200 into ~18,000) and I moved in.  He tanked for a few minutes, had the clock called on him by a player who was never involved in the hand and eventually folded.

Now armed with a big stack, I was off to the races and I ended up bagging a big stack at the end of the session. When I reported this to Janeen she was openly and unapologetically disappointed.  She was exhausted and frustrated and had been rooting for me to bust so that I would come home and help her care for Max.

Putting Janeen’s torment at home on the back burner, I ended up battling my way through a treacherous and draining fourteen-hour Day 2.  One of the few hands I recall playing took place toward the end of the night.  I opened the Ks5s and got called by both blinds.  I triple barreled a 9-8-5-10-A board, shoving all in on the river, and my opponent folded (thank you, sir).  It was one of those “screw it, I don’t give a shit” kind of hands that I may have played differently if I were still relying on poker tournaments as an income producer.  When we bagged chips at the end of the night, only 23 players remained and I was in the middle of the pack.  Now guaranteed about $8,000 and utterly exhausted, I texted Janeen and again discovered that she was still miserable and had again been rooting for me to fail.  What a railbird!

I had packed exactly enough clothes for three days.  On the morning of Day 3 I was down to clean undergarments and my Jim Brown jersey.  That suited me just fine, because with $191,000 “up top” in the tournament, I was gonna need to run like #32 to get all the money.  I had been in this exact spot many times over the past few years with not much to show for it.  That late tournament rungood had been evading me for some time.  Complicating matters was the remaining field, which featured a murderer’s row of East Coast grinders; I personally knew about half the players remaining, and of the ones I didn’t know, the majority were internet geniuses in expensive baseball caps with stiff brims.  Not an easy assignment.  As play started up I learned that my father had won a not guilty verdict in the trial.  No matter what I did during Day 3, our client’s day was guaranteed to be better than mine.  A good omen?

I ran well right out of the gate.  During Day 3 I repeatedly beat AK with pocket pairs in crucial all in preflop spots, I believe a total of six consecutive times.  While I never got my money in bad and won as an underdog in the entire tournament, winning six or seven big coin flips definitely qualifies as running way above expectation.  My stack swung wildly throughout the day, but when the field was trimmed to the final nine, I was still there with a good amount of chips.  Maybe this was happening.

Also at the final table were two friends of mine:  Eugene Fouksman, my new poker role model:  a guy with a full time real world job who is nonetheless as tough as they come at the poker table, and to my direct right sat one of my best friends in poker, Ryan Eriquezzo.

Since much of my readership is comprised of poker outsiders, I always thought it would be interesting to write profiles on some of my long time colleagues.  I have consorted with a lot of real characters in the past six years; it would make for good blogging.   I’ve never done it, though.  I can’t seem to summon the energy to write something that would do these guys justice.  Also, my blog isn’t supposed to be about blowing up people’s spots—I have no idea whether my friends would even be amenable to having pieces written about them by a hack like me.  But in this instance, because so much of what I experienced at Caesar’s has to do with my relationship with Ryan, I’m going to write a little something about him.

In many ways, Ryan Eriquezzo is the poster child for the wild world of live professional tournament poker.  His story is both a cautionary tale and (hopefully) a triumphant one—a tribute to perseverance and determination.   I first met Ryan maybe four or five years ago at Foxwoods.  He presents as a very intelligent and excitable guy.  It turns out that both of these attributes are accurate:  Ryan seems to have an aptitude for learning and excelling at whatever he sets his mind to.  He also has a penchant for becoming wild and erratic.

Ryan is a classic example of a weird Catch-22 that I’ve observed a lot in poker:  in my opinion, the same personality traits that have given Ryan problems in the real world also contribute to his success as a poker player.  He is stubborn and willful, with the guts of a burglar.  He is capable of acting like a petulant child.  And, to be frank, he also might be a little bit crazy.  When you combine his creativity and intelligence with his tendency to be wild, unpredictable and careless, the end result is a guy who is a holy terror at the poker table and self destructive everywhere else.  To illustrate:  Ryan would make anyone’s list of the best players to ever visit the poker rooms at the two casinos in his home state of Connecticut, but Ryan is currently banned from both places.  To further illustrate:  he executed a seven-bet (not a typo, seven-bet) all in preflop bluff against a very accomplished player deep in the money of the WSOP Main Event.  Then he flashed the ten of diamonds.  It takes a special kind of crazy bastard to do that.  It also takes a special kind of wackjob to develop the number of so-called “life leaks” that Ryan has dealt with during his whirlwind career.  Enumerating them here would be time consuming and pointless.  He does seem to have them under control right now, by the way.

While some casino floorpeople and many of his opponents do not care for him, despite his flaws Ryan is beloved by many of his colleagues, including myself.  He wears his heart on his sleeve and is honest and forthright about his struggles and desires.  Most importantly, he is a good person.

His talent at poker was immediately apparent  to me after sitting with him for only a few hours.  I have been very open about my admiration for his game through the years.  Whenever anyone asks me who the best player I know is, Ryan’s is one of the first names out of my mouth.  I have told him and others on several occasions that he was the one player in my inner circle who was most likely to win a major event.  I even mentioned this fact in a January interview that I gave to the guys who blog the Borgata Events (the interview apparently ended up on the cutting room floor).  Ryan is also the only poker player I have ever staked on a semi-regular basis.  He is an absolute threat to win any tournament he enters.  That makes for a good investment.  His biggest poker leak is inextricably tied to the characteristics that make him so difficult to play against:  it’s his inability to gear down, stop trying to own everyone’s soul and simply pass on a spot or two.

At the close of the Borgata Winter Open, Ryan was broke, without a backer and unsure if he could stay in action.  He confided this to me, and I offered to stake him in some cash games.  I did this not because I enjoy being involved in staking—I really don’t—but because I wanted to see him get back on his feet (and maybe so I’d have a little something to sweat as I departed the full time poker scene).  I drove up to Connecticut, took him to lunch, and dropped off his stake.  Unfortunately, the arrangement got off to a bad start and Ryan tore through my money in short order.  He was now broke, out of action and in makeup to me.  When he told me that he didn’t think he would make it down to Caesar’s for the circuit events, I again helped him out, promising to put him into Events 1 and 2.  From there, assuming he didn’t do anything in those tournaments, he would be on his own.  He busted both tourneys short of the money, burning through another dime in DZ dollars.  As I suspected, Ryan was nevertheless able to sell a staking package for the rest of the series, and while I was in court, he was grinding prelims.  He made a small score in one of them, coming up just short of the final table.  Which brings us back to the final table of the main event, where Ryan and I were seated side by side.

We were eight-handed for something like three hours, with short stacks winning a ridiculous nine consecutive all-ins (including me once), and then the carnage commenced.  Ryan was playing well and was also in full Godmode, and by the time the table was five handed, he had a pretty commanding chip lead.  I, meanwhile, was hanging in there, happy to be cruising along despite losing two huge pots that would have catapulted me into chip lead contention.  Playing the final table wasn’t rocket science, it seldom is.  These final tables truthfully don’t differ too much from the $55 sit ‘n go’s I used to grind on Pokerstars in the middle of the last decade.  There are important ICM considerations involved with each hand, and two of my best decisions of the entire tournament involved hands I passed on when the tournament was five and three-handed.

During five-handed play I made one of the biggest blunders of my poker career.  I was under the gun and found aces.  Eugene, who was now on my direct left, openshoved out of turn.  Dumbfounded, I looked at the dealer and then the floorman, and neither gave any real indication about what all this meant.  I honestly had no idea that Gene’s all-in would be ruled binding if I limped my aces and was not told as much.  It’s a pretty basic, simple rule, but with my limited experience in cash games, I just had no idea.  In the end it was my fault for not inquiring specifically.  After a protracted pause, I made my standard open and Gene folded, very happy that I had changed the action.  I picked up only the blinds and antes.  As it turned out, he had one of the hands with the highest equity against my aces:  J-10.  It ended up working out fine, but I was briefly embarrassed.

Amusingly, my two biggest fuckups in late-tourney play occurred during two of my biggest scores.  I’ve never told anyone this, but back in 2007 I mucked the winning hand in a big pot with two tables left in a $1500 Foxwoods event.  I was livid with myself, but I recovered and ended up taking second.  Screwing up in this instance didn’t fluster me at all.  In fact, I felt completely calm and collected at all times at the final table, so I guess I can still handle myself like a pro.  That’s nice to know.

In a hand that was worth an absurd amount of equity, Ryan busted two guys at once, JJ > I think two A-x hands, and just like that we were three handed.  Only a short time later, I took out the third place finisher, AQ > A3, and much to the delight of Ryan, myself and our big group of mutual friends on the rail, I was now guaranteed $118,000 (my largest score since the summer of 2009) and was somehow heads up with one of my best friends in poker.

Getting heads up in a big tournament happens very infrequently, even for the best of players.  Being heads up with a good friend is rarer still, and I will likely always fondly remember this experience.  At stake was over $70,000, a WSOPC ring and a seat in some big freeroll tournament in July.  I was at a 2-1 chip disadvantage.  We took a short break, and when we returned I posed the idea of an equity chop or saver to Ryan, who immediately shot it down.

Playing my good friend for $70,000 is really not in my repertoire.  When I think of $70,000, I envision things like two fully loaded SUV’s, a couple of years’ worth of mortgage payments or over a full year of day care.  The idea of a heads up match for that much money honestly just does not appeal to me, I’m not wired to gamble for that much money in one sitting.  I guess that might make me less of a true poker player; it also makes me less likely to ever go broke.  The circumstances under which I would choose to play someone (much less a friend) heads up for $70,000 are:  (a) I feel that I have a big advantage in the match; and/or (b) the amount at stake isn’t significant to me.  Neither factor was present for me here, so I was looking to lock up 15 or 20 dimes.

After the fact, Ryan gave me a somewhat convoluted explanation for his unwillingness to deal that had something to do with “needing it for his career.”  Well, it is plain to anyone with any common sense that what Ryan’s career needed most was an infusion of money (I sound pissed but I assure you that I am not, by the way).  He ended up getting just that, as he defeated me after a nice hour-plus battle.  It was important to me that I gave Ryan a good match, and I think I did.  I immediately lost about half my stack but came back strong, and by the time the final hand took place, I felt like I was wresting control from him.  Someone put the final hand on youtube, so here it is.  Holy rail pandemonium.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2A03xPMzDT8%5D

Note that Ryan’s live rail was about 20 people strong.  My live rail consisted of just my friend Rob, who actually deserted me during heads up play (there were also a few neutral parties present, I believe).  I had almost no virtual rail watching the grainy live stream (reveal yourselves if you exist!), as both Janeen and my Dad were sound asleep by the time the tournament finished.  I was definitely the road team in this matchup.

I am very happy with the result, both for me and for Ryan.  I have long predicted a big score like this for Ryan, so even though I lost the heads up match, I get to feel prescient about it.  There is literally only one pro poker friend of mine who could make me proud with a big win like this, and it is Ryan.  There are several guys I’d be happy for, but there’s just one I can honestly say I’m proud of, and it’s the guy who won this tournament.  I sincerely hope this win becomes his springboard to poker stardom.

For those of you keeping score, Janeen claims she finally began to root for me to win around the time I made the final table.  After the tourney concluded, I collected a cashier’s check from the Caesar’s Corporation, had a couple of drinks at Borgata with three friends, and went to bed.  I woke up early the next day and drove home.  I arrived to no fanfare.  I took a shower and lifted Max out of Janeen’s arms, giving her a much needed break.  A couple of hours later I quietly deposited a check for $118,000 in my local bank.  Last weekend I bought a new car.  Not a luxury car, a Honda.

Nothing has changed.  I’m typing this from my desk at work and am happier than ever with my decision to quit grinding full time.  Apparently my 2nd place finish did vault me up the WSOP Freeroll Thing points standings so that I’m close to qualifying, so I am going to take a crack at the circuit event in someplace called Council Bluffs in two weeks.  I’m going to be in Chicago for Passover anyway, so it’s fairly convenient.  Council Bluffs is eight miles from Omaha, Nebraska, so I guess I will stay there and go eat steak at an authentic “LOL I’m in Omaha!” steakhouse.  Should be fun.

The best part about this nice score is that it proves to my satisfaction that I’m still capable of hanging with the big boys when the cards fall my way.  Not too shabby for a suit.

Maxwell’s House!

On Thursday afternoon last week, February 2nd—Groundhog Day 2012—Janeen gave birth to our second child, a boy!  His name is Maxwell Ryan Zeitlin.

We waffled on what to name him throughout the pregnancy and finally settled on Max, a name befitting a young jewboy.  His full name’s Maxwell, but he will probably go by just “Max.”  I do think it’s cool that his official name is a two syllable version that he can opt for if he ends up wanting that sort of flourish.  And while the middle names Klecko, Deuce and Punxsutawney all seemed apropos in varying degrees, we chose Ryan in memory of Janeen’s paternal grandmother Rose.

Max is healthy and very alert for a tiny newborn.  Unlike Ivy, who had a beautiful and pristine but generic look about her at one week of age, Max’s baby face has a lot of character.  While he obviously has no control of his extremities (or even his neck), he does like to look around and give everyone little sideways glances.  He looks like a sly old man.  He’s Mr. Magoo.

Lil Max!

Lil Max!

Whenever I hold Max it occurs to me how tiny and helpless he is.  I’m accustomed to handling Ivy, who at 14 months is the size, shape and weight of a sack of flour and likes being tossed around like one.  Max is such a tiny little noob and that makes him a completely different and less durable sort of person.  I mean, they’re both human babies but it’s amazing how little Ivy and Max have in common physically.

Sitting in my living room, which is littered with toys and babycare contraptions, it also has been occurring to me that in the last four years I have traversed a lot of space on my life-arc and also overseen a drastic change in its trajectory.  There are certain things a middle aged man can do that portend big changes.  I’ve now done a bunch of them in rapid succession.  These sorts of changes are supposed to handled individually, part of the slow process of settling into old age.  It feels like I’ve done everything almost all at once.  It seems like only yesterday that dressing myself was my biggest daily challenge.  Now, out of nowhere, I’ve got a wife, two kids and a dog, and we’re all living together in a nice apartment in White People Brooklyn.  I’m wearing a suit and doing research on Subarus and Ford Flexes, and there is a baby on my lap right now.  It’s a long way from the beginning of 2008, when I’d spend a lot of waking hours contemplating whether opening the Pokerstars client on my computer was a better or worse idea than meeting friends for drinks.  Only four or five years ago, I thought that I might be too self absorbed to handle a committed relationship, and now here I sit with much more than that to contend with.

The sick part is that there’s actually nothing contentious about it.  My new life is less stressful than I thought it’d be and I’ve never been happier.  Helping Ivy progress through her first year has been one of the greatest experiences of my life (and she isn’t walking or talking yet!).  I am overjoyed that I will experience that again with Maxwell, and the duty of shepherding both of my kids through their lives—an assignment that will occupy my time for the remainder of my life—feels like a gift, not a burden.  If you told 2007 David that he’d be typing these words only a few years into the future, he’d have punched you in the face.  And 2012 David cannot believe that the concept of having children once seemed so dreadful.

By the way, Max is a boy!  I mean, I know this is blatantly obvious, but I wish to make a confession:  his gender matters to me.  It is practically taboo for a well-educated intellectual American man (I purport to be all of these things) to admit that  he wants a son, but I am super psyched that Max is a baby boy.  His maleness doesn’t appeal to me in the primal “now I’ll be well fed in my decrepit older years” way that probably dates back to our days as hunter-gatherers, and his maleness doesn’t appeal to me in the tribal patriarchal “hooray, more Zeitlins to roam the earth!” way either.

The reason I have always wanted a boy is so I can replicate the formative relationships I’ve had with my grandfather and my father.  He’s been dead for over 10 years now, but my grandfather and I were very close, and we spent a great deal of time together while he was still around.  Anyone who knows me well knows how sentimental this relationship is to me.  My Pop-Pop imparted so much integral wisdom, and he also patiently and lovingly taught me all the “guy stuff” he knew:  baseball and football history, fascinating pieces of old New York City lore, various chapters from his colorful past, and lots and lots more, including my initial poker lessons.  From Pop-Pop I formed a template on how to conduct myself as a man and that template has guided me since childhood.  As for my father:  my Dad has been my best friend for as long as I can remember.  He is my sounding board, confidant and adviser.  Thanks to these two relationships, my persona is an amalgam of those two men.  It may be sexist to say this, but I don’t believe the bonds I formed with these two men would have been possible if I were female.  I’m sure I still would have bonded with them in equally important but different ways, but those differences matter to me.  And so I wanted a son.

It is probably both unrealistic and unhealthy to think that I will become Pop-Pop and Dad to Max.  I know that.  And I will absolutely support him even if his interests and values diverge with mine.  I’ll be there in whatever capacity, even if that means giving him feedback on his next speech before his school’s ornithology club or helping him buy new ballet slippers.  Still, I can’t wait to do guy stuff with my little guy.

As for my personal goals in the days to come, they are pretty modest:

-To have a relatively easy and happy transformation from “former lawyer, poker player” to “lawyer who’s good at poker.”  My desire to play poker isn’t going to fade away any time soon.  I actually followed the results of the Borgata Winter Open Main Event from home.  I would never have bothered to do this had I participated in the event; being removed from the scene actually enhanced my interest.

I think that my poker mindset and overall game is going to improve in the days ahead.  Poker is an emotional game, and the fear of failure (in running an unsuccessful bluff, in trying an unconventional or new style, in trying a new game, in moving up in stakes, etc.) is a powerful force in poker.  When a person is playing poker at its highest level, he is taking advantage of all the opportunities presented to him.  When a person is playing suboptimally, he is not pulling the trigger on some plays because he is afraid they will not work.  This is part of the reason why success seems to beget success in poker, and why players seem to get into difficult ruts.I have noticed that at certain times in my poker career I have made conservative choices that were directly motivated by my fear of failure. To put it bluntly, the emotional wreckage that results from getting caught with your pants down can make a poker player keep his pants cinched up far too tight. By reducing poker to a recreational activity rather than my livelihood, I suspect that I will worry a lot less about making mistakes and may thereby be able to drastically reduce my fear of failing.  I actually felt this happening in the recent Borgata tournaments, where I was playing a loose, free (and effective) form of poker.  I really didn’t give a shit if I screwed up, and that made me a better player.

-To indulge my budding gastronomic snobbery.  I have developed a deep an abiding love for my neighborhood, in no small part because it has to be one of the top 10 places in the United States to experience artisinal food, artisinal beer, artisinal coffee, etc. etc., for reasonable prices.  I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but because of how limited my opportunities to go out (in the traditional “woot get wasted!” sense) are and the presence of so many amazing and delicious restaurants around here, I’ve turned into a bit of a foodie.  Brooklyn has this farmhouse/locally sourced ingredients/hot-shit chef in exile thing going on right now, and I’m all about it.  Within walking distance from my apartment are places that do things like cure and smoke bacon in-house, brine their own pickles, serve brunch with pour over coffee from freshly-ground direct trade beans, and on and on.  My neighborhood seems to be a breeding ground for chefs and restauranteurs who want to take chances, and the result is a wide array of awesome places to try.  These places are smaller, cheaper, less staid and of vastly higher quality than most regular neighborhood places in Manhattan.

-To get in better physical shape (or at least try to do something to counteract the effects of preceding paragraph).  I feel kinda meh about what I see in the mirror these days.   For my entire life I’ve had trouble motivating to exercise and I’m not sure what will change my outlook on this, but I’m going to make another concerted effort.  Janeen wants to start exercising again, so maybe having a partner will help.

That’s all for now.  Got poopy diapers to change.

On Commuting. And Ivy.

My last blog entry was well received.  It was forwarded along in the poker community and shared and re-shared in social media outlets.  It ended up being the most widely read piece I’ve ever written.  A couple of days ago I was contacted by Lance Gordon, who co-hosts an internet poker radio show called Three Streets of Value.  I was interviewed on the show to discuss my retirement.  A link to the podcast can be found here:

http://podcasts.ontiltradio.com/playlist/mp3/3%20Streets%20of%20Value%20Jan%2012,%202012.mp3

I started “working” this week.  I’m using quotes there because what I’m really doing is training, reacquainting myself with the daily hustle and with courtroom procedure.  Six years is a pretty long layoff.

Monday was Day One.  The biggest surprises actually had nothing to do with my workplace.  One was the commute. After half a decade of lazy mornings, I’d forgotten about the universality of the morning commute.  At 8:00 a.m. on a weekday, New York City is popping off.  Everyone is going wherever they need to go to do whatever they need to do.  People everywhere.  I had honestly forgotten what that looks and feels like.  I know, welcome to reality.

It didn’t feel so bad, really.  Today I got on the F Train at Carroll Street along with a couple of hundred other humans, and I kind of enjoyed it.  Towards the end of my prior stint working a normal job I was one wretched, miserable bastard in the morning.  At the time, my NYC workdays were only a sideshow; a barely-tolerable prelude to the things I was getting into at night—usually the city’s best poker clubs and its dirtiest, loudest nightclubs.  After six hours of bluffing investment bankers at the Ace Point Club, four hours of blowing my brains out at Filter 14 and perhaps a little sleep in whatever time remained, crowded morning subway rides were not my cup of tea.  I usually couldn’t think straight in the morning.  Not that I wanted to.  I had my new nightcrawling friends and I was getting better and better at poker, and those were the things that mattered to me.  Standing there on the subway I’d sometimes have the urge to rip off my suit jacket and tie, swing them around my head like a cowboy out on the range and scream at all the other suits at the top of my lungs: I AM NOT ONE OF YOU! I never did rope any dogies on the subway, but I did escape the rat race and make a new career for myself in poker.  Now I’m back.

Another thing I’d forgotten:  being part of the working world is a social exercise.  When they’re part of our routine, it’s easy to call the insignificant exchanges we repeatedly have over the course of a normal day tedious, but it’s actually nice to connect with people.  I’m talking about saying “thank you” to guy who sells you the morning paper, “hey, what’s up?” to the guy from the 5th floor when you share an elevator ride, “excuse me” to the lady standing in your way as you push through a subway door.  These little cordial exchanges have a cumulative effect as we share close quarters with others during our workdays.  There’s a reason our species does this.  We are social animals.  It feels good.

I’m mentioning this because socially speaking, professional poker is solitary confinement.  In poker, one can go weeks without exchanging pleasantries with someone.  Poker deprives us socially both because of its odd hours and because basic strategy requires the withholding of information.  Even conversations with friends in poker are often colored in a subtle way by the fact that the person you’re talking to is also one of your competitors.  There’s a weird, guarded undercurrent in a lot of conversations between poker players.  It kind of sucks.

Maybe the most unexpected consequence of getting out into the working world this week is that it made me want to look good.  For whatever reason, being back out there on Monday made me want to present a polished image to the complete strangers around me.  For the first time in forever, I found that I cared about my appearance.  On Tuesday I wore a scarf.  Then on Wednesday I went and got a $50 haircut.  Crazy stuff.

It goes without saying that very few poker players dress to impress.  Quite the opposite.  One of the oft-cited benefits to playing poker is that there is no dress code.  In fact, within the poker community this concept is stretched to its logical extreme, to the point that poker has basically become a giant fashion shitshow.  If an observer didn’t know any better, he’d look around a poker room and presume that there was an ongoing contest to see who could present themselves in the most disgraceful way possible.

This is a weird time for Janeen and I.  Janeen is now due in about three weeks, so we’re just kind of waiting for the arrival of our second child.  The beginning of his life is gonna be like Vietnam.  It’s going to be a fucking madhouse in here with a newborn, a 13 month old baby and a 60-pound nutjob dog.  Bombs exploding everywhere.

The apartment has undergone a complete overhaul.  My “office” (read:  online poker man cave) has been transformed into a nursery.  Sometimes I gaze wistfully at the changing table that occupies the space where my prized Ms. Pac Man machine once stood and emit a loud exaggerated sigh.  Mostly I’m fine with everything.

As detailed above, the early returns on my new life are pretty good, but I’m having my moments.  I’m maybe a little susceptible to emotional interludes right now.  It’s probably because there’s such drastic change afoot. Yesterday I was walking through some old familiar territory in Midtown Manhattan, wearing standard NYC work garb.  Suddenly I was hit with a wave of nostalgia that brought me back to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when I was working my first job out of law school.  I guess it wasn’t really notalgia per se because the world nostalgia connotes positive things.  I vividly recalled a time when I was bored, unfulfilled and unsure of myself in my professional life and relentlessly courting danger in my personal life.  Solid combination.  I was profoundly sad for myself and for my past for a little while.  I’m over it now.

I’m still playing a little poker in a cash game in the city.  It’s funny… having a regular job has completely removed my old feelings of poker entitlement.  Other poker players can probably imagine how liberating this feels, ’cause like Snoop said to Michael, “deserve got nothin’ to do with it.”  Words for poker players to live by, because deserve really doesn’t have shit to do poker.  In my last session, my friend Sahu did me dirty:  I had pockets aces and he cracked them with 7-2 off in a $1400 pot.  The money went in on a J-x-2 board, postflop.  He turned two pair.  And you know what?  I laughed.

I don’t expect I’ll be updating this blog too much in the days leading up to and following Vietnam, so I’m going to fire off a bunch of little observations about Ivy for posterity.  Yeah, I’m turning into one of those guys.

I am in love with Ivy, and she adores me too, probably more than she adores any other person.  It takes a great deal of self restraint to keep from becoming one of those people who posts a different photo of their child on Facebook every day, each barely distinguishable from the last.

Ivy loves life.  She greets each day like the Super Bowl is about to kick off.  She wakes up, pulls herself to her feet and starts shaking the slats on her crib with this shit eating grin on her face.  Same thing every day.

Ivy can walk but chooses not to.  She chooses not to walk because she’s such an expert, high velocity crawler, so why walk?  When she notices that the laundry room door is open, she looks just like a little baby halfback running a sprint draw.  She sees the door’s open, pauses for a beat, then off she goes, scampering to daylight.  She can crease even the most disciplined defense with this play.  Picks up yards after contact, too.

Ivy’s first—and so far, only—English word is “hi.”  She will sit there saying “hi” with various intonations all day long if you let her.  “Hi, hi, hiiii.  Hi.  Hi!”  She also speaks two other languages fluently, but I am not sure which ones yet.

Ivy knows all the parts of her face.  You ask her where each part is and she points to it or grabs it.  Her coordination needs a little work on  “nose.”  She ends up poking a randomly selected place on the front of her head.

Last week Ivy and I spent over 24 straight hours together by ourselves while the apartment was being overhauled.  When we returned, the Texans/Bengals Wild Card game was about to kick off, but the work was not yet done.  So Ivy and I adjourned to a local bar to watch the game together.  Once there, she ate an entire order of fries with great gusto and also proceeded to charm the socks off of a group of barflies, who dubbed her “Little Turbo.”  I think that name is gonna stick.  It’s a good name.

Ivy likes doing things herself.  She’s a year old now, after all.  She’s no charity case.  She don’t need things done for her.  She’s one determined, willful little sucker.  Give her a sippy cup full of milk and she’ll disdainfully backhand that shit across the room.  Then when she’s good and ready—usually a few seconds later—she’ll go grab it, pretend like she just happened to find it lying there and chug it all.

Ivy would change her own diaper if she could.  She finds being changed by adults wholly objectionable.  It’s like a pro wrestling match and she is virtually unpinnable.  I keep expecting her to shake her head no-no-no and wag her finger at me like a little shit-diapered Hulk Hogan.

Ivy can dance!  When she hears a killer tune like “Pop Goes the Weasel” she does these deranged deep knee bends and screams her head off.  She got that from me.

Ivy loves being upside down.  If you turn her upside down she claps and laughs.  Every time.  She may have a future in the circus, my little Ivy Walenda.

That’s all for now!

My Farewell Tour.

I haven’t felt much like writing or talking about it until today, but about five or six weeks ago I decided that effective early in 2012 I will stop playing poker as my primary source of income.

My chosen profession already poses serious challenges for both Janeen and I.  I’m away from home between one-third and half of the days of the year and Janeen works full time.  We can’t afford (and do not prefer) the kind of child care that will allow Janeen to relax when she gets home from work while I’m away.  When baby number two graces our lives in February, a full poker schedule will become both unfeasible and undesirable.  I expect that having two very small children will completely remove what remains of my desire to travel and “grind,” and I’m okay with that.

The best part about professional poker is the lifestyle. Playing poker for a living means no alarm clocks, no scheduled meetings, random vacation days and no one ever telling you where to be.  Setting my own schedule has been the defining perk of this adventure that began about ten years ago in a home game on the Upper East Side.  But now the script’s been flipped.  As I’m sure you’re aware, a human child’s internal clock is not especially pliant.  A baby’s timetable does not conform to the preferences of the adults raising him/her and children are not nocturnal creatures.  They go to bed early in the evening and they arise with the sun, and I will soon be living with two such creatures.  It turns out that many of parenthood’s finest moments take place early in the morning—it is not a coincidence that Barney and Sesame Street air on PBS at 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. respectively (and yes, I’m intimately familiar with these programs). A parent that sleeps through the daylight hours is a parent who is sacrificing time shared with his/her child. I don’t wish to be that kind of parent.

Still, I’m aware that there are millions of people who effectively balance demanding and/or nighttime occupations (including poker) with parenthood. All it takes is the requisite motivation.  Which brings me to my next and most important issue:  it has long been apparent that poker no longer motivates me.

When I discuss professional poker playing with outsiders, there are a lot of recurring questions that get asked. One of the least frequent but most insightful is “don’t you ever get bored?” For years, on the occasions that this query popped up, I was dismissive of of it—the answer was a legitimate “of course not.” However, in recent years I’ve realized that this question is a poignant one, and the current answer for me is “yes.” My passion for poker has dissipated substantially, and it’s been this way for a long time.

Five-plus years is a long time to travel the live tournament circuit, and I’ve officially had it.  Most of my poker pro friends can probably tell how much I detest casino living:  I’m usually in my car within five minutes of busting any tournament contested within three hours of my Brooklyn home.  I’ve lost my tolerance for the repeated trips I once happily subjected myself to. The thrill of witnessing high stakes gambling is long gone. Sitting in the same spot at the same table for hours waiting for a great spot to materialize—this is practically the definition of efficient poker, by the way—now feels like a missed opportunity to do something else.  And constantly having to walk through a casino floor to get wherever I’m going—this practice has gradually progressed from exciting to mundane to just plain deplorable.  Starting sometime in 2009 I began to view the tournament circuit’s crusty old regulars less as interesting characters and more as sad case studies.  I’d prefer not to end up becoming one of them.

The concept behind working the tournament circuit as a pro is to magnify your marginal edge over the field (and minimize variance) by playing a lot. The way this is accomplished is by carpet bombing the tournament schedule, turning up at almost every tourney stop and participating in as many tournaments as humanly possible.  The monetary outlay is large and so is the amount of time invested.  There are hundreds of fruitless days with a handful of glorious ones sprinkled in.  When I was still enjoying poker, long dry runs were frustrating but tolerable.  Although the droughts were annoying, I knew they were merely a natural byproduct of the game I had chosen.  There was even a strange sort of dignity in defeat.  In the pursuit of conquering variance, enduring cashless months was just part of the experience.  But now I’m over it.  Today, I cannot tolerate a game where I’m expected to bat .150.  My time is too precious.  With a growing family at home, the idea of spending a week busting tournament after tournament now seems pretty wasteful.  I’m not trying to say that my time is any more valuable than anyone else’s, but in some respects poker has now become more stifling than liberating for me.

Thanks to the poker circuit I have adopted a truly sedentary lifestyle. I sit in my car for hours, then I sit at a felt-covered table for hours, and then I report to my hotel room.  Eating lonely meals at fast food restaurants off the Garden State Parkway, chain-chugging Dunkin Donuts coffee from behind the wheel, chewing up highway miles whilst listening to countless hours of sports talk radio… these things once took on an almost romantic quality in my mind—I saw it as the life of a dedicated professional gambler.  Today, sadly, this routine feels kind of ridiculous.  I’m missing my family, I’m woefully out of shape, and I’m losing out on opportunities to do some of the things I really enjoy.  At the tournament stops, social outings are usually meals of overrated quality with colleagues, punctuated by a game of credit card roulette.  My life away from home can be summed up as follows:  poker, a little suitcase crammed full of jeans and sweatshirts and a lot of time spent in a hotel bed staring at my laptop.

I’ve met some great people through poker, but I’m increasingly feeling like an outsider when it comes to the culture surrounding my profession.  Most of the frequent topics discussed do not register with me at all:  I honestly don’t give a shit who won the last EPT Event, I don’t wanna hear about the amazing laydown that someone made in the 10-25 game, and no, I’m not up on the latest drama from the 2+2 forums.  I’m older and less obsessed than everyone around me.  When I want to seek out my colleagues’ company, I have to report to whichever hotel room they’re smoking weed in and sit there listening to conversations about poker.  These conversations bore me to tears.  The best way to improve at poker is definitely to talk about it, and my indifference towards these conversations certainly hinders me, but I just don’t enjoy them.  The next time I hear someone tell me that some upcoming tournament is “sick value,” I may kick them in the junk.  I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s plenty more “sick value” just around the corner in some other venue next week.

Dedicated poker pros will read the miserable paragraphs above and completely misdiagnose the problem.  That’s okay.  Most of the poker playing world wears blinders.  For what it’s worth, I’m not busto.  Ours is a two-income household, my bad years are never that bad, I have lots of money in the bank and I’m far more resourceful than most of the other regs realize.  My issue also isn’t that I’m simply sick of losing, although it’s certainly a factor—five years playing tournaments results in an astounding number of losing days.  The primary issue is that my priorities have changed.   Poker has become -LifeEV for me.  Bouncing from casino to casino playing high stakes tournaments is a dream life for many guys, and it once was mine, but that time in my life has passed.

The fact is I’m not a poker lifer and I’m not a true grinder. I’ve been searching, to no avail, for my inner grinder for many years.  He does not seem to exist.  Since 2007 or so I’ve been making the same tired old resolutions: to learn a game besides no-limit, to put in X hours per week online, to play cash games after busting tournaments, to force myself to play cash games here in NYC.  I always say that I will do these things because they’re precisely what the real grinders are doing.  For me, they never happen because I’m only pretending.   I’m simply not interested in doing them.

My approach to poker is quite expert both in terms of strategy and bankroll management, but my dedication to the game is lacking. My effort level is that of a recreational player, and I suppose that’s what I really am:  a highly proficient recreational player.  As a matter of fact, I personally know several guys who hold down full time jobs and still play more hours of poker per week than me.  I have earned the same distinction in poker that I once held in the law:  last in my department in billable hours.

To her everlasting credit and despite suffering so much hardship from my frequent travel, Janeen has never once suggested that I change career paths, and for this I will always be grateful.  Janeen has always treated my profession with the utmost respect and been my biggest supporter.  She understands that earning my living at the poker tables was first my dream and later my raison d’etre.  Today it is neither of those things.  The time for a change has come.

My recent trip to Chicago/Hammond crystallized the situation. The first WSOP Hammond Event was scheduled to be a three-day event with two starting days. It was a $350 buy in that drew a shitload of players, and first place was something along the lines of $150,000. I finished Day 1a—a Thursday—with a lot of chips and returned for Day 2—Saturday—two days later. It soon became apparent that the tournament would not be completed until Sunday, which of course I planned to spend watching football. Day 2 initially went very well but as the night wore on, it turned into the standard touch-and-go 10-20 big blind ordeal. As the field thinned to six, then five, then four tables, and the prospect of winning tens of thousands of dollars became realistic, here’s what I was thinking:

  1. Holy crap, I’m so tired that I can barely think straight. When can I go to sleep?
  2. I will murder someone if I have to come back tomorrow with a short stack and miss the football games.

At around 2:30 a.m. CST, I miscounted my stack and overshoved suited connectors in what I thought was a standard spot but was really a borderline spot and busted 31st.

Later in the series they ran a $200 Event that drew almost 900 players.  It normally would be an iffy play for me, but the tournament served the dual purpose of allowing me to work and to introduce my father-in-law to the tournament circuit.  I really enjoyed doing this, and he took the opportunity to play his first serious tournament that day.  The structure of the tournament was what you’d expect for the buy-in, and I hung around in the event until the inevitable point where two-thirds of the field was gone and everyone had less than 20 big blinds.

At that time they moved my buddy Lippy to my table.  This was a fun development because the silly banter between Lippy and I would alleviate the boredom of the event.  As it happened, a larger tournament was also going to begin shortly, and our mutual friend Vinny was hanging around killing time before it began.  During tournaments Vinny and Lippy are in the general habit of taking turns lurking over each other’s shoulders sweating each other’s hands, and thus Vinny was a spectator at our table.

I had about 15 big blinds UTG+2.  Lippy covered me and was in the small blind.  I had pockets eights and openshoved.  With Vinny looking on, Lippy snapcalled with AQs, the board ran out four blanks and then a queen on the river, and I busted.  In the heat of the moment I asked Lippy how he could snap call there (operative word “snap,” it’s a fine call), then wished him good luck and departed, ready to get on with the rest of my day.

Except the story didn’t end there.  A very long series of text messages between Lippy and myself ensued, during which he apologized profusely for busting me, defended his decision to call and shared the impassioned opinions on the matter (of which there were no shortage) of both Vinny and a fourth party.  Lippy stated that my range included a hand or two that he was dominating, and that he was flipping with the majority of my range.  Vinny opined that Lippy ought to simply retire if he was going to fold there (Vinny’s texts were helpfully forwarded along by Lippy as added credible evidence).  I agreed completely with these statements, but we nevertheless texted back and forth for probably a full hour, with Lippy giving me a long overwrought analysis of this very simple hand from every conceivable angle (including the impact of our 5% swap thereon and the impact of Vinny’s presence thereon), with me repeatedly reassuring him that it was no big deal.  Which it wasn’t.  On multiple levels.

While I appreciated Lippy’s genuine distress over busting his friend from the tournament, I felt the entire exercise was a ridiculous waste of time and bandwith.  After the general annoyance of fielding and responding to the text messages faded, I thought about the whole thing and found it was emblematic of my current situation.  It was I who busted the tournament on the hand at issue, I who should have been pondering the proper strategy for the hand and I who should have most acutely felt the sting of defeat.  However, of the three people in my circle who had witnessed the hand, I was a very distant third on the give-a-shit-o-meter.  I was perfectly happy to bust; it allowed me to leave the casino with my father-in-law at a reasonable hour.  The hand itself was over as far as I was concerned, and the less it was discussed the happier I was.  I have no interest in discussing poker strategy these days, and that creates a gulf that separates me from the real grinders (it could also be part of the reason why my results have been fairly stagnant in recent times).  In retrospect my Lippy bustout hand didn’t arouse my interest whatsoever.  Nothing registered except that I was now free to leave the awul Horseshoe Hammond.  I obviously do not have a grinder’s mentality right now.

Although my decision had already been made before I departed for Chicago, upon returning to New York I decided (for the fiftieth time) to become more active in the local cash games.  My friend Jeffrey has been insisting that I’m leaving money on the table by not sitting in these games, and now that I’ve spent some time playing in them, I’ve determined that he’s right.  The games are soft.

The problem is that the games also bore me to death and occasionally drive me crazy.  These cash games are populated by a handful of thinking players (most of whom are personal friends) and a cadre of really bad, loose players.  Inevitably there will be a guy sitting there with only a couple of hundred dollars in front of him.  He’s usually steaming from having lost a recent hand and he’s indiscriminately shoving all in preflop out of frustration.  This is standard operating procedure in this cash game.   The optimal strategy is thus very easy to figure out:  you sit around waiting for one of the poor players to dump his stack to you.  Sometimes such an opportunity arises many times over the course of a single hour, sometimes an entire night will pass without one.  When one of the resident idiots tries dumping his money in your lap, you either stack the dummy or he sucks out/coolers you and stacks you.  And that’s the game.  When I leave the room, I’m either pissed off (because a dumbass stacked me) or bored (the game is not stimulating).  It’s an easy way to earn money, but there’s no indication that I am going to start enjoying it any time soon.  I could always go and play elsewhere for higher stakes against better players, but I don’t have the stomach for that either.

I’m aware that I may be confusing cause and effect when it comes to my current state of mind.  Am I sick of poker and therefore changing careers?  Or am I changing careers and therefore sick of poker?  Quite the chicken/egg conundrum, huh?  I think it probably cuts both ways.  In the end, the reason why I’m ready to pursue something new isn’t too important, what counts is the fact that these feelings are real and that I’m making a genuine choice, of my own free will.  The biggest challenge for me as I move forward is not to think of myself as a failure.  On some level poker has been a failed venture for me:  had I become one of the truly great players, the game would be too lucrative to quit. I almost certainly would not be shutting things down now, I’d have so much money that I’d just grant myself a six month paternity leave.  I admittedly do not have that luxury.  Still, surviving for almost six years on the tournament circuit—and really thriving for the majority of that span—is an accomplishment to be proud of, and I’ll need to keep that in mind.

What’s my next move?  Well, like a folding sports franchise , I’m going to play out the string.  There is an ongoing series at Borgata right now, then a December series at Harrah’s AC, and after that Borgata again in January.  I’m going to do everything in my power to actually enjoy tournament poker during this stretch run—I’ve kind of lost the plot and don’t have much fun playing anymore.  That’s gotta change.  After that baby number two will be ready to pop out.  And from that point forward, I am going to… work a regular job!  For starters, I have an easy out.  I have a father who runs a successful legal practice that I can jump straight into without having to explain the five year gap on my resume to anyone.  I’m incredibly lucky to have this option; talk about running good.  My father has always been supportive of my poker career, and if I give sufficient notice I’m pretty sure that he will permit me to play some tournaments here and there.  Ultimately, I expect that spending time away will change my outlook and revive my interest in poker, and I’ll end up playing a lot of the tourneys on the east coast.

I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m returning to the same job that drove me to poker in the first place, but times have changed.  I’m responsible for the happiness of people beside myself now.  Helping to keep those people happy may become a satisfying endeavor.  I’m choosing to view lawyering as a stepping stone to whatever comes next.  Without having so much of my mental energy tied up with poker, new ideas and new ventures may materialize.  Who knows.  Ideally I will end up with some sort of mixed income situation, with poker becoming a fun and profitable diversion.  My poker game might even improve with the burden of playing for a living lifted from my conscience.  I may even return to playing full time if the right things happen.  Some of the conceivable “right things” would be the return of online poker, my children advancing to school age and rediscovering my love of the game.

Before closing this blog post, I want to issue a quick apology.  In the past several years I have been guilty of being very dismissive of people who work regular jobs.  I’ve been a little militant on this topic.  Poker players like to wear their self-reliance like a badge of honor, I have been no exception.  Since Ivy’s birth I’ve come to appreciate the appeal in steady employment with a predictable schedule.  I’ve even felt some pangs of jealousy watching the suits hustling around midtown lately.  I know I’ve offended some people here and there by making my personal journey sound like the only kind of life worth aspiring to.  To those people I’d like to say that I’ve changed my viewpoint and I’m sorry if I’ve ever ruffled your feathers.  🙂

I’m off to submit my Attorney Secure Pass application.  This will renew my long-expired card that once allowed me to enter our fine state’s courthouses without having to go through a metal detector or wait in line with the riff-raff.  I’m sure that I will throw up in my mouth the first time I use it, but I am convinced the time has come for a change.

When You Walk Through The Garden…

I currently don’t have much to say about poker.  I had a dry run in a limited number of events at Borgata.  I’ve been spending a good deal of time on other things, and have felt kind of disinterested and emotionally removed from the poker scene.  I’m playing most of the WSOP Hammond Events a couple of weeks and I hope that’ll go well.

Ivy is awesome and Janeen’s second pregnancy is going fine.  This one’s a boy!  His in utero name is D’Brickashaw.  The Jets All Pro left tackle is a fixture in my world and it’s been years since I gave any consideration to his ornate first name.  However, I recently watched a Jets preseason game with Janeen, and she finds the idea of a human being named D’Brickashaw hilarious, so that’s what we’ve been calling our unborn son.  And now I’m gonna post something about a television show.

Janeen likes for she and I to have “a show.” “A show” means a television program we watch together. I grew up doing this, but until I met Janeen, I had almost completely stopped watching any television shows with regularity. She and I have different taste in primetime TV: she’s easier to please and watches probably ten or twelve shows religiously (the memory space on our DVR is perpetually over 50% full).  I am a massive skeptic when it comes to television in general.  Left to my own devices, I basically pretend that primetime shows don’t even exist.  I’m not entirely opposed to watching TV shows, but there have been very few that I truthfully enjoy. Still, having “a show” has long been a part of my relationship with Janeen. We’ve cycled through a bunch of them. Some were good, some were just okay, and some were really dreadful.  I survived the awful ones by focusing on the satisfaction it gave Janeen to have a partner to watch them with.  There was one show—which sadly we’ve now seen every episode of—that was much better than the rest.  It was the best television show I’ve ever seen.

Last year, a few different people suggested that Janeen and I adopt The Wire—an HBO program that lasted five seasons before being canceled in 2008—as our new show.  We did so, and I’m very grateful for it.

The Wire is a show about cops, the drug trade and politicians set in Baltimore, Maryland.  It is initially challenging. The first few episodes are confounding and not easy to decipher.  At the outset, the viewer is left to his own devices, forced to familiarize himself with what is going on with minimal hand holding from the show’s creator, David Simon.  The show panders to no one and makes no apologies for an 80% black cast speaking a language few viewers are familiar with.  Because The Wire refused to package itself in a way that is easy to initially digest, it’s not surprising to me that it never achieved widespread viewership.  The show breaks a lot of rules. When the only character on your show with a real moral compass is an openly gay stick up artist, you know you’re watching something a little different.

Once you settle in and get the hang of The Wire, it is nothing short of awesome.  What is slowly revealed is an incredibly ambitious and enthralling narrative.  The show is a revelation on many levels.  Sometimes morbidly depressing and other times uproariously funny, the show has a  lyrical quality and delivers one great one-liner after another, but at the same time it is magnificent storytelling; the end of certain episodes evokes the same feeling achieved when finishing a crucial chapter in an epic book.  The Wire really stays with you after you turn it off, and that might be the highest compliment that can be paid to a television program.  The characters—almost without exception and including the peripheral ones—are complex and richly drawn.  Simon and his cast of writers and directors coax brilliant performances from various bit players, some of whom are not even professional actors.

Although The Wire boasts a cadre of uniquely memorable characters, perhaps its greatest triumph is that we never lose sight of the real star of the show:  the City of Baltimore.  The show bounces effortlessly around the gritty urban world it covers, from the street to the police to the suits ostensibly in charge of it all.  There is sharp social commentary woven into the episodes in a way that somehow never feels contrived.  The Wire is a fascinating expose of urban America, it lays bare much of what is hopelessly wrong with our cities.  And if that was all there was to the show it would still be a triumph, but The Wire digs much deeper and does so successfully.  Innumerable and sometimes surprising political issues are touched upon, and through it all, The Wire manages to stay authentic.  The show is just… real.  The Wire is so good that it ranks as both the top detective show and top urban drama I’ve ever seen.  It is everything that both of these otherwise tired genres wish they were.  Once you’re exposed to The Wire, so much of everything else they’re doing on TV feels like straight wankery.

Janeen and I recently finished the fifth and final season of The Wire.  I initially refused to begin Season 5—we waited over a month between the last episode of Season 4 and the first episode of Season 5—because I didn’t want the damn thing to end.  There’s an empty space in my life now.  The show is that freakin’ good.  Best show ever.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmIvu1yg3bU%5D

In The Market For A Minivan…

Since I’m no longer in denial of this fact, I’d like to announce that Janeen and I are expecting our second child!

This took us both by complete surprise.  Without getting into the gory details, let’s just say that I was unaware that having another kid this quickly was even biologically possible.  Oops?  I recently learned (from more than one person) that the term of art for this situation is “Irish Twins,” but in Brooklyn we call producing babies at this pace Hasidic.

We are not Hasids.

We always wanted two (and only two), so in the end this will be just fine.  In the meantime I imagine everything’s gonna be little hectic.  That Janeen was convinced that one or both of us was infertile while we were trying to get her knocked up the first time adds a touch of irony to the situation.  I guess all of our reproductive parts are working just fine. Perhaps a little too fine.

Number Two is due in February of 2012, which means that a full babyless calendar year will separate Ivy and the noob.  So there’s that.  The due date is February 5th, which happens to be Super Bowl Sunday.  And yes, the first thing that sprung to mind was that I’d be faced with quite a conundrum if the Jets got there.

A second baby could force us from our already-cramped apartment and could portend a partial career change for me, but I’m choosing not to worry about those things just yet.  Overall, Janeen and I are very happy with the hand life has dealt us (we have suited broadway cards) and are looking forward to the arrival of The Deuce!

And now here’s a video of Ivy laughing at a tiny stuffed dog!

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VevI2Lg-btA%5D

Post WSOP Post.

This blog is in a state of disrepair.  It sucks, but I don’t think there’s much I can do about it.  My home life is a form of culture shock after so much time at the World Series.  Vegas has left me unaccustomed to the demands of fatherhood (not that I’m unwilling in any way!).  Since I’ve returned, I’ve been so overwhelmed by the miniature hurricane called Ivy and crave sleep so badly that finding a free hour or two to write something worthwhile here is difficult.

Then there’s the problem of social media, which is probably destroying thousands of blogs just like this one. Facebook and Twitter are easy.  Sitting down to write things here is hard.  It’s lamentable on many levels, but Twitter is the natural place for my tournament updates.  As recently as two years ago I’d compose a few paragraphs here after a long exciting day of poker.  Sometimes they were much more interesting than anything I’ve ever tweeted.  Instead, I now intermittently blast off several instantaneous but sterile updates of fewer than 140 keystrokes apiece each day.  It’s a shame, because blogs (good ones, anyway) are so much more compelling than tweets and Facebook status updates.  Social media is best designed for sales—for “maintaining a presence”—(this should be a marketing term if it already isn’t) rather than any sort of meaningful entertainment.  Annoying people are naturals at Facebook and Twitter.  People using the interface come to accept and even enjoy the inane ubiquity these morons achieve.  They’re like that old Nabisco jingle. It’s there and you’re going to hear from it a few times a day so you may as well learn to like it.  My blog is withering away because I’m becoming one of those annoying morons.  It sucks.

So my summer at the WSOP can be split into two sections:  the first leg, where I found mostly frustration, and then the second leg, which was basically the Main Event.  It was the usual roller coaster ride but was relatively satisfying.

I can honestly say that I never dedicated more time and effort to poker than I did during this WSOP.  Maybe it was because I’d been having a second consecutive “meh” year and was resolved to reverse course.  Maybe it was because I could sense that my new home life and the poker lifestyle might soon become too difficult to reconcile.  Maybe I just love poker and felt like going berserk with it.  But when I reached Vegas just after Memorial Day, I resolved to do nothing short of eat, sleep, breathe and shit poker for over a month.

I achieved this goal.  I played a big tournament most days.  When I busted the tournament I played a sit n’ go.  When I busted the sit n’ go I played another sit n’ go.  When I busted that sit ‘n go, I played another sit ‘n go.  I went to bed when I was too tired to play.  The next day would be the same.  It was after July 4th when I finally came up for air and began to enjoy Vegas a little bit.  Never had I been more consumed; entire weeks passed where I played over 12 hours daily and I’ve got a huge pile of tournament receipts to prove it.  I watched no television and paid outside interests no mind whatsoever during this time.  I hear that Derek Jeter had his 3,000th career hit, and I hear that some white trash broad from Florida who killed her daughter got acquitted.  I have zero firsthand knowledge of these things, I know everything I’ve learned about them from Facebook.  Naturally.

My summer went okay.  I stayed afloat by doing well in the sit ‘n go’s and through the random consequence of staking a friend in the Rio daily event and waking up the next day to discover that he’d won it.  Mostly I met with failure.  This is standard at the WSOP.

The WSOP can be a harrowing affair.  Guys put everything they have into it, both figuratively and literally (every summer a couple of guys I know quit playing professionally at its conclusion).  Summer in Vegas is a cauldron of psychological challenges, the stakes are high and so is the pressure.  Everyone wants the same thing, and that is simply to make a deep run in at least one event.

Deep runs down to the final few tables in WSOP events are nothing short of intoxicating.  It’s the highest you can possibly gamble.  With a couple of tables left in a WSOP event, the remaining players are orbiting the earth in a faraway degenerate stratosphere where it is perfectly normal to flip coins for tens of thousands of dollars. Pretty cool place.  All serious tournament poker players aspire to get to that place.  Those who have been there aspire to get back.  We all wake up in the morning hoping that the next tournament will be the vehicle that takes us there.

The problem is that most of guys at the WSOP—even the top pros—will not make any deep runs all summer. This is a straight-up immutable fact, but very few are willing to accept it.  Amusingly, many of the guys who cannot accept this fact have been around the block, understand tournament variance and have lived the tournament lifestyle for many years.  I would know, I’m friends with about twenty of them.  On any given day at the WSOP, at least five of my best poker friends will contemplate suicide.  Many of this blog’s devotees know that my poker psyche and self-confidence can sometimes use work, but I often act as the voice of reason in my group of poker friends—even when I’m on a bad run myself.  Poker fans envision the The World Series of Poker as some sort of poker nirvana, but it’s really the biggest mope convention in the world.

As the first leg of my summer drew to a close, I was left to contemplate the state of “my game,” as we pros like to call the totality of our experience and ability as it relates to the current tendencies and abilities of our opponents.  As that convoluted definition probably intimates, self-evaluating in an honest and meaningful way is one of the most difficult tasks in poker:  you have to separate signal from noise.  Most are not equipped to do it.  It requires both emotional distance and a real understanding of all the trappings of the mathematics of probability such as sample size and the difference between correlation and causation.  In short, it is very easy for a poker player who has been losing to conjure up a narrative that explains things perfectly yet is completely and hopelessly wrong.  “I’m just running bad” and “I’m just not good enough” are the typical culprits (although there are many more).  It’s easy to shape a set of circumstances so that they seem to logically lead to either of these common conclusions and still have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.

I personally noticed two things when thinking about my summer of poker.  The first was that I hadn’t hit a card the whole time I was in Vegas.  When you play a lot of tournaments, you inevitably will get your money in bad sometimes, and on some of those occasions you will nevertheless win.  During my time in Vegas, I never won when I put my money in bad.  Actually, that is a lie.  I hit a $2500 card in a sit ‘n go (three handed, there was a three way all in where I held 99 vs. QQ and AJ, the flop came A high and the river was a 9), but other than that instance, I never had a big suckout.  I didn’t once get coolered and bink a set.  I didn’t once get caught with my pants down and watch two glorious running flush cards bail me out.  I ran below expectation in big all-ins where I was behind.

The other thing I’ve noticed is a bit more troubling.  This is a fair bit of speculation, and I could be wrong about this, but I’ve found that as time wears on, what my game has gained in precision it has lost in daring.  As I’ve become more and more proficient at understanding my opponents’ strategies, I’ve become more predictable myself.  Now that I can articulately explain most everything that I experience at the table, I’ve ceased making plays that defy description.  I’m not sure if this makes sense.  Perhaps the best way to explain this is to say that in spots where I used to play by feel, I now use pre-defined guidelines to make my decisions, and my decisions have invariably trended towards the conservative.  I used to checkraise four-way dry flops with 7 high.  I used to float flops out of position with ace high and check-jam turns unimproved.  I used to triple barrel with air, because, well, “how can he call?”  I don’t do any of those things anymore because I’m preoccupied with knowing exactly which hands I can and might get called by.  Sure, I punted a lot of stacks, but my ignorance was an asset.  My ability to elucidate every hand I play is in some ways a curse.  I may have been better off doing what I used to do:  throwing haymakers in the dark.  And that’s where my mind was at as I sat down to play the 2011 Main Event.

I don’t have the time or the inclination to write the epic Main Event recaps I once produced.  Instead here’s a quick rundown where I’ll discuss two or three hands.

with this little broad in my fan club, how could I not cash?

with this little broad in my fan club, how could I not cash?

I made a big laydown on Day 1.  This was a big deal for me, even though the decision became elementary after serious consideration.  I hate folding.  I had chipped up from 30,000 to around 45,000 at dinner.  The player to my immediate left was Portuguese and was playing and running well all day, he probably had 80,000 or more at the start of this hand.

It was the very first hand after dinner, only seven players were seated and the big blind was absent.  I had pocket fours in the two hole at 150-300/25 and I made it 725 to go.  I was flatted by the Portuguese guy right behind me and by one other player in the cutoff.  After a slow grind upwards all day, I envisioned winning a huge pot when the flop rolled off J-10-4 rainbow.  I bet 1300.  The Portuguese guy called and the other player folded.  The turn came the 6 of diamonds, putting two diamonds on board.  I bombed in 3200 and the Portuguese guy thought for a bit before raising to 7150.  I thought that I might be behind, but I had a set and was happy to call and let him continue doing whatever the hell he was doing on the river.

The river was a non-diamond jack, making the final board J-J-10-6-4 and giving me a full house.  I checked and the Portuguese guy made a huge bet, a bet that I absolutely hated:  20,800.  I went deep into the tank and after sweating and agonizing my way through a complete recap of the hand, I folded my hand face up.  The factors that saved me were the river card and my opponent’s bet sizing.  That the river was a jack was really important.  I knew that my opponent was too good to raise with just a jack on the turn, this would have been a pointless exercise because I’d have called with all better hands and folded all worse.  When a second jack fell on the river, my potential calling range was effectively expanded as some of my possible holdings (AJ, KJ, QJ) had just improved to trips.  Knowing this and seemingly unconcerned by it, my opponent chose a BIG bet on the river.  This was telling, because good players bet big on the river for value in spots like the one I was facing.  Fours full was a pretty hand but was nothing more than a bluffcatcher in this situation, the Portuguese guy’s range was {bigger full houses and quads} + {bluffs}.  The only bluffs I could think of were KQ of diamonds, AQ of diamonds and hands like 88 and 99 that he decided to get crazy with on the turn, i.e., not many hands at all.

My fold was correct.  The Portuguese guy was not only a very good player but a nice guy.  In the ensuing moments, he recognized my agony (not that it was hard to decipher, I was practically vomiting on the table) and let me off the hook by revealing that he held pocket 10’s.  He also commended me on a great laydown and asked me how much he could have bet on the river to get me to call (anything less than 15k, probably?).  I came back strong after that hand and closed out Day 1 with 68,000 chips.

I had a very good Day 2 during which I ran well and also played well.  Eventual November Niner Sam Holden was on my right for much of the day, I had no trouble with him and won a few substantial pots from him.  At the close of proceedings I was able to put “CL” (table chip leader) on my bag, into which I stuffed 224,000 chips.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of table draws in the WSOP Main Event.  The field runs the gamut from the very best to the very worst players seen all year, and the relative difficulty of the tables therefore varies wildly.  The first time I became truly excited about my prospects in the 2011 Main Event was when I took my seat on Day 3 and played a few hands.  It was then that I discovered that I had an incredibly soft table.  Four of us had a plenty of chips.  Tony Hachem was a few seats to my left with over 200k, and he would proceed to play solid and straightforward.  Shawn Keller was to my direct right, also with 200k, he was competent at NLHE but really a limit player.  And two seats to Keller’s right was a grey-haired guy from somewhere in the deep South calling himself the Silver Fox.  I knew he was The Silver Fox because it was embroidered on the front pocket of his golf shirt.  It would be convenient to make fun of him for this, but then there’s the fact that I own shirts that have my nickname embroidered across them.  Yeah.  The Silver Fox had 190k and The Silver Fox was bad.

My Day 3 had gone swimmingly for the first half hour or so.  I picked up easy reads on most of the table and was chipping up nicely.  Twice I had double barreled hands I had opened and seen it work (I employ this strategy more often in the WSOP Main than any other tournament, no one likes playing big pots in the WSOP Main).  I was in the groove and had visions of a long day of domination, and then… who knows what?  Maybe a trip to the Degenosphere in the biggest tournament of them all?  My daydream was over before it began.  My tournament turned when I lost the following hand.

I had a bet sizing tell on Mr. Silver Fox.  He opened to 4x or 5x when he had a big hand (presumably to avoid multi-way action) and he opened small with his medium and marginal hands.  On this hand it folded to him in the cutoff and he made it 3200 to go at 800-1600/200.  I held the KJ of hearts in the small blind.  I considered a fold and considered a three-bet, but I ultimately decided to call because we both had well over 200,000 in our stacks and I was happy to speculate—even out of position—against a player of his caliber.  The big blind came in, so we went three ways to a flop of Ax-7h-2h, giving me a king high flush draw.  I felt the best course of action was to lead at the pot because it would so often result in two folds right then.  If not, I could continue barreling if a heart turned.  I bet 6300.

The big blind folded but The Silver Fox thought only for a second or two before raising to 20,000.  Against another player I might have folded, but I strongly suspected this guy would dump almost all of his chips to me if a heart peeled, so I decided to call his huge raise.  The turn was very nice, the six of hearts, giving me the second nuts.  I was eyeing our stacks and contemplating my next play when The Silver Fox interrupted things by doing something dumb, making a massive bet out of turn:  he pushed out 40,000 chips.  The dealer responded by informing him that I had not yet acted.

I knew well that this bet would be ruled binding if I checked, and I didn’t want to arouse any suspicion by calling the floor or trying to put on any airs.  I just chuckled and said “okay, I check,” and The Silver Fox said “I still bet forty thousand.”  A huge pot was developing.  There was absolutely no point in checkraising for a few reasons.  First, I held two of the broadway hearts, meaning that most of the combinations that were now flushes that this guy would have minraised preflop were now actually beating me.  Still, a flush was very unlikely.  Nobody bets 40,000 into 50,000 on the turn with the stone nuts, not even this guy.  The Silver Fox had one of the following holdings:  a) total trash that he’d taken this line with because he didn’t like my flop lead; b) two pair or a set; c) just an ace (one pair) that he was completely spazzing out with for reasons unkown; or d) an ace high flush.  There was no reason to raise against any of these hands.  In fact, I felt that a) and d) made up enough of his range that the best line was to check/call the river.

The river came the queen of hearts, putting four hearts on board.  Not a good card.  I was now losing to some of the aforementioned b) and c) hands.  I knew that with so much on the line that my opponent would only value bet the nuts on this river, he’d check back with everything else.  I checked and The Silver Fox couldn’t announce “all in!” fast enough.  To recap:  20,000 on the flop, 40,000 on the turn, and all in for 130,000 more on the river.  Massive berserko bets.  I held the second nuts and it was dog shit.  I angrily fired my cards into the muck against what was very obviously a poorly played AhXx that got lucky on the river.

I spent the rest of the day recovering and treading water.  I grew increasingly frustrated as the day wore on about not being able to find a good spot against SF or any of the other soft spots at the table.  I felt like I was a cut above my Day 3 table, but that guarantees nothing, and nothing is exactly what happened for most of the day.  I picked and prodded my way through the night (one nit folded AKo face up to one of my three-bets, I held K-3 of spades. I also cold four-bet once in a good spot and got two folds), but I never got rolling after losing that pot to The Silver Fox.

I went into Day 4 with a below average stack.  I didn’t have a hard time steering it into the money, all the spots I picked to open were good, so I had virtually the same stack I started the day with when the bubble burst.  After the bubble, my stack bled down to around fifteen big blinds at its low point.  I hung around and got a lucky double on the first occasion in the entire tournament that I was all in with AJ against JJ.  I then began to pick up chips and things seemed to be swinging in my direction.  I had 260k with the blinds at 3000-6000/1000 when I found pocket jacks on the button.  A competent aggressive Latino player who covered me opened the cutoff to 16,000.  I three-bet to 40,000 and beat him into the pot when he 4-bet jammed.  He had AKo, the flop came A-K-x, and that was all she wrote.

In the end, I notched my seventh consecutive winning summer.  It was by no means anything special, but I’m now one of only roughly 30 people in the world who has cashed in the WSOP Main Event four times.  I’m proud of that.  I have reason to believe that bright days back here on the East Coast lie ahead.